Books Alive!

A story of Novel Integration in the Social Studies Classroom
John Ayres, Social Studies Department Chair – Ridgely Middle School

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, we were introduced to BCPS’s literacy initiative. The Ridgely Middle School Social Studies Department has always had a commitment to student literacy, but wanted to be different and take a new approach on learning. As a seventh grade team, we discussed the opportunity of participating in the Global Read Aloud, by reading the book “A Long Walk to Water”. We wanted to find a way to make meaningful connections to curricular standards and outcomes in the Africa Unit of study, but also make the learning personable to students. Each week, students were tasked with reading 2-3 chapters of the book and interacting with it in a way where they could make connections with each other, their own lives, as well as discuss geographical challenges faced by the people living in Sudan, Africa.

In planning for novel integration, we planned to have students complete several tasks to provide a unique experience interacting with the text. These varied strategies and activities not only motivated students to read, but also made the study of Africa more fun and interesting. Each week, students were excited to learn about the next steps in Nya and Salva’s journey as well as what challenges refugees in war torn Sudan faced.

Throughout the novel study, students had the opportunity to interact in book talk formats using discussion protocols. Here students were able to answer proposed questions about their reading and how it related to their lives. Students were also given the opportunity to pose questions to each other about how characters were handling difficult situations, or what meaning they took from the reading assigned that week. Students were also able to interact with the text by using Notice and Note strategies. During this part of their study, students were asked to look for quotes containing extreme and abusive language, or contrasts and contradictions. Students were able to determine author’s purpose and answer the question, “Why would the author want us to know this?” The result of these discussions allowed the students to dig deeper into the meaning of the text and take on the perspective of the author in why she told the story the way she did. One of the most popular assignments with students was the use of Voice Thread. With these assignments, students were able to interact with others via text or video response discussing not only the theme of the week but also making connections to themes such as scarcity, conflict, resources, and interdependence; all concepts which students were learning during the Africa Unit.

To celebrate concluding the novel, students participated in two culminating activities. Students had the opportunity to discuss their new learning with students on an international level, via “meet.in”. During this experience, students from Ridgely interacted with students from the Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg, Canada. Students took turns asking each other questions about how they reacted or felt about the week’s assigned readings, geographical challenges faced by the characters, or decisions made by characters. One of the most interesting things that came from this experience was when one student stated that, “I was surprised the students from Canada thought that mosquito attacks were worse than walking through the Akobo Desert. They must not have a lot of mosquitos in Canada, that’s probably why they said that.” At the conclusion of the novel, students were able to hear from Mr. Jeff Huber, a missionary, doing work in Sudan. He shared his experiences with students and allowed them to ask questions about his first-hand account of living and working with the Sudanese people. This interaction provided a new perspective for students and helped bring meaning to the real life struggles faced by people in Sudan.

We are actively looking for new novels to use in our Social Studies classrooms. Our eighth grade students are currently concluding their study of the American Revolution through their novel study of, Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. The novel study approach in the Social Studies classroom has been extremely popular with students. In addition, teachers have embraced this concept. Teachers have been given the freedom and flexibility to be creative, and take risks using new and innovative pedagogical methods as a way to create connections to students’ lives in order to make history come alive.

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